Highly specific noninvasive photoacoustic and positron emission tomography of brain plaque with functionalized croconium dye labeled by a radiotracer†
Highly-efficient targeting probes are desirable for disease diagnosis and functional imaging. However, most of the current near-infrared (NIR) probes suffer from low signal conversion, insufficient photostability, poor probe specificity, and limited functions. Herein, an NIR ultrahigh absorbing croconium dye for amyloid (CDA) was designed and synthesized to specifically bind to cerebrovascular amyloid without antibody linkage. This unique CDA is able to strongly bind the hydrophobic channels of amyloid beta (Aβ) fiber with a very strong binding energy of −9.3 kcal mol−1. Our experimental results demonstrate that the amphipathic dye with an intense absorption peak at 800 nm generated a significant local temperature surge under low-power laser irradiation. Compared with representative prominent indocyanine green, Prussian blue, and gold nanorods, this probe can produce the strongest photoacoustic signal based on the same mass concentration. Labeled with radioactive 18F, this multifunctional probe allowed for the ultrasensitive photoacoustic tomography (PAT)/positron emission tomography (PET)/fluorescence imaging of Aβ plaques in the brain cortex. Featured with high spatial resolution and optical specificity, PAT was intrinsically suitable for imaging pathological sites on cortical vessels, whereas PET revealed whole-body anatomy with quantitative biodistribution information. Our study shows that a CDA-based functionalized dye aided with PAT and PET is capable of plaque diagnosis and localization.